This is the time of year when people take an interest in me. As Halloween approaches, it occurs to organizers of late October events that the dingbat Nadler woman, author of three collections of ghost tales, two of them Vineyard-related (and all of them true! true! true!), the third a really scary book about Boston hauntings (it’s a project that forced me, many nights, to sleep with the light on, after receiving emails about hideous metropolitan beasties and ghoulies), that I, the Ghost Lady – just as Vernon Laux is the Bird Guy (the first time we met we introduced ourselves to each other that way and then we shook hands), that I could be called upon to relate a fresh, untold creepy tale.
Cue Bela Lugosi demented laugh track.
So I will!
I know my readership: You want frightening, am I right? Most true ghost stories are only unsettling because we’re forced, perhaps for the first time, to confront the fact that “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio then are dreamt of in your philosophy”.
Perhaps you or someone you know has come up against some of the classic occult manifestations: Bangs on walls. Tramp of footsteps up the stairs. A cold zone on the second floor landing where it’s normally toasty from the central heating system. Or how ‘bout footsteps in the attic, heard late at night as you’re dozing off? This is really disturbing when you recall you have no attic.
Believe it or not, most people, once they’ve recovered from their initial shock that some really weird stuff is happening in their domiciles, actually learn to go along to get along. They tend to name the entity – Capt. Jeremiah, say, after the original owner who apparently was lost at sea but who, naturally enough, returned to his own digs. If Jeremiah’s only bad habits are to move the salt shaker, or tickle the ivories late at night, then why not fold the poor lost soul into the family?
Haunted lodgings have become a plus in the hotel trade. In the UK ghosts have been greatly fancied ever since the apparition of poor beheaded Queen Mary stalked the corridors of the Tower with, as the song goes, ‘’er ‘ead touked underneat’ ‘er arm”. Nowadays there’s a Brit equivalent of an 800 number that tourists can call to book themselves into haunted inns from the Isle of Jersey up north through the Scottish Highlands, and from the cliffs of Dover all the way west to Cornwall.
Here in the New World, we may not have organized a national guide to ghostly sleepovers (say, what about a chain of Motels 666?), but all over New England, charming b & bs are quick to advertise their resident ghost. Here on the Island, the owners of The Victorian Inn have been gracious about leaving copies of Haunted Island on the coffee table of their front parlor (Chapter 8, The Amorous Ghost; yes Captain Lafayette Rowley IS a bit randy!). And the former owner of the famously haunted Daggett Inn had at one time considered a line of ghost dolls to sell in the lobby.
But I promised you frightening. You want frightening, you’ll get frightening.
Here’s the thing: Every so often a house is haunted in such a way that the owners can’t joke about it, and name it, and tell ribald tales about it over the dinner table. The living occupants of the abode are freaked because the occult occupant is clearly malevolent and means them harm.
My theory: In the living human population, 3% is sociopathic. In the spirit world, arguably the same demographic applies. Why wouldn’t it? 3% isn’t much. But when a sociopathic spirit arrives on the scene, it makes chandeliers crash and scatters dishes and sets off alarms. There’s a ghost on Nantucket, dude in a baggy black suit, who throttles whoever is unlucky enough to be sleeping in a particular room. (Hopefully that room has been boarded up.)
So here's the story:
A couple of years ago, a real estate agent – we’ll call her Ginny – listed a house in the historic district of one of our cute towns. It was an elegant home, well-tended, with seven bedrooms and three recently modernized baths. Ginny felt lucky to represent the house, although she was surprised at the lack of contact with the owner, a retired college professor living in Brookline. Their only communication was by email. The owner sent Ginny the key and requested that she lend it to no one; even if a workman was scheduled to fix the washing machine, Ginny must let him inside and, later, lock up behind him.
Each time Ginny showed the house to new prospective buyers, she tried to hide her surprise at the changes: A sofa had been moved? A chair pulled away from the dining room table? And what about those silver candlesticks, usually on the fireplace mantle, now presiding on the kitchen counter, as if an invisible butler were on the verge of polishing them?
But the worst part of what should have been an agreeable house tour, with an appreciative set of clients, was the smell. Sometimes it wafted up from the bottom of the stairs, other times in the pantry, once or twice in the master bedroom beside the beach stone fireplace: Metallic with a faint whiff of rotting meat; unmistakable. The odor of dried blood.
“What is that stench?” her clients demanded to know. Whether or not they identified it as blood, no one wanted a house that stank to high Hell, never mind the seven bedrooms.
After a number of showings that increasingly felt to Ginny like episodes of that TV series about mysterious illnesses, but without the curmudgeonly but brilliant doc played by Hugh Laurie to diagnose the problem, Ginny finally found a buyer who perhaps – Ginny never allowed herself to delve deeply into the matter – suffered from sinus problems and thus had no sense of smell.
Let us draw a curtain over this case, and hope that the evil spirit dwelling in this house has “gone to the light” – certainly the best case scenario.
Cue the Bela Lugosi demented laugh track again, and Happy (Really?! Happy?) Halloween!